The Early History of KVCTU


Bob Jackson

In honor of KVCTU’s 40th anniversary, long-time member, Bob Jackson, compiled this history of our beginning.

    This material covers the period from the origin of our chapter in 1965 to 1983 and is abstracted from personal appointment books and my recollections of the events at the time.  I trust the the records of the Kalamazoo Valley Chapter of TU are sufficient to carry on the history of our chapter from 1983 to the present, as I have very little in the way of notes from that year on.

    I first heard of Trout Unlimited in 1962 or early 1963 when Ed Sutton joined the Scientific Anglers Club of Kalamazoo.  This organization was a fly-tying and trout fishing club whose activities were more like the social aspects of our TU chapter.  There were many members who were more interested in the fellowship of the group of anglers than being activists in the field of conservation and ecology.  There were certainly matters of conservation to be considered in those days, but they were not as urgent as they became a few years alter.

    We did attempt to raise funds to support charitable activities.  This was done through an annual fish-fry which was held once a year in February.  This popular event usually netted $150 to $200 through profits from the dinner and raffles.  Many door prizes were solicited from the local sporting goods stores an a few members.  The projects or activities that these funds promoted were the purchase of fly-tying tools and supplies for instruction at Percy Jones Veterans Hospital in Battle Creek.  Later, a similar service was done for Goodwill Industries here in Kalamazoo.  We also sponsored teachers from the Kalamazoo County area to attend a summer school at Higgins Lake that was put on by the DNR.  This program was designed to give natural science teachers the latest information in conservation techniques, which could be imparted as a segment of the curriculum where they taught.

    Ed Sutton joined the Scientific Anglers Club in 1963, not only to join in our fellowship but also to recruit some of us to form the nucleus of a local chapter of Trout Unlimited.  This effort was somewhat hampered by the fact that this club was primarily a fly-tying/social organization.  There weren’t many of us that were interested in becoming the activists the membership in TU would demand.  Ed was already a member of TU National but there was no local chapter.  He had fished the Au Sable River frequently and knew Art Neumann, George Griffith, and others who were the founding fathers of Trout Unlimited.  At this time, Ed worked for Brown Paper Co. and through his contacts prevailed and a date was set for an organizational meeting on February 17, 1965.  It is possible this date could have been on March 17.  This is not likely, as the annual election of officers was held in February for many years and this month appears to have been the anniversary of the founding of our chapter.

    At that first meeting, Ed Sutton was elected President; John Cook, Vice President; and Jerry Clough, Secretary/Treasurer.  A Board of Directors was chosen which included Floyd Eberly, Al Scott, Dr. Bill Burdick, Bob Jackson and probably Jim Warren, George Disborough and Howard “Red” Welch.  We adopted a constitution based on forms obtained from Trout Unlimited National and required by them.  These papers were submitted to national headquarters in order to receive our charter.  I am not sure of the date that we received that charter, but it was probably sometime in the spring or early summer of 1965.  My notes indicate that in 1965 there were meetings held April 22, May 19, October 20, and November 17.  Upon consulting Art Neumann of Saginaw, MI, who was Executive Secretary of TU National at the time, I find that he appeared before our membership on probably both April 22 and May 19 of 1965.  On his first visit, Art gave a talk on the aims and goals of Trout Unlimited and the type of activist organization were should become.  On his other visit, Art gave a presentation on steps involved in creating a bamboo rod, starting with the seasoned culms of Tonkin Cane.

    Art was a very knowledgeable fisherman and rod builder and ran a small fly fishing tackle business as a sideline from his home in Saginaw.  The Wanigas Rod Co. was well known to many as a fine source of quality rods, flies, lines, reels, etc.  Art had taken a leave of absence from his job at Eaton Manufacturing Co. to serve as Executive Secretary of TU from October 1, 1962 to November 1, 1965.  He continued as acting or part-time Executive Secretary until September 10, 1965.  My notes from 1966 further indicate that KVCTU held a board meeting on January 12, and regular meetings on January 19, March 16, and April 6.  It was at this last meeting that it was announced that Jack Cook would be leaving the Kalamazoo area, and I was elected to the office of Vice President.  I was immediately that one of my duties as Vice President was to make arrangements for speakers and programs for our regular monthly meetings.  At this time, the notice for our meetings was sent out in a rather cumbersome manner.  The National Headquarters, in Denver, had a roster of our membership.  We had to notify them of a meeting date, and they, in turn, send cards to our members.  They insisted on this procedure m as they wanted to keep track of all of our chapter meetings.  We undoubtedly had to include the nature of the program so that it could be included on the card/notice that they sent out.  These programs were often films put out by tackle manufacturers, i.e. makers of rods, reels, and lines.

    Because our treasury had no money to speak of, we invited speakers who required no honorarium.  These were representatives of the DNR and other state agencies who had some administrative responsibility for providing clean water and a stable environment for our fisheries.  For the showing of films, we borrowed a 16mm projector from The Upjohn Company.  They kindly lent us projection equipment whenever we needed it.  Now seldom seen, the 16mm format was the most common medium of film communication at the time.  Sales representatives from the tackle companies kept us up-to-date on tackle innovations, and their expenses were paid for by their employers.

    Consistent with our low budget programs, was the April 5, 1966 meeting held at the Wolf Lake Hatchery.  Here we viewed the facilities for raising steelhead smolts to size for planting in our local (Southwest Michigan) rivers, although steelhead were not an inland fisheries species, they nevertheless, fell within the area of interest of Trout Unlimited.  We still were interested in the impact the steelhead had on non-migratory trout species.  As an example of an example of an area related to the DNR, we invited the Chairman of the Water Resources Commission, Carlos Fedderoff to appear before our chapter.  I recall that this was a very disappointing but clarifying meeting.  It appeared that this commission was nothing but a licensing agency for water pollution.  They didn’t seem to care whether the rivers were clean or not.  All they were concerned about was that the streams were not totally polluted and that they ran downstream to Lake Michigan, Huron, Superior, etc.

On November 15, 1966, we had a meeting at Stafford’s Restaurant in which Wayne Tody was the speaker.  Tody was the head of the Fisheries Division fo the DNR.  He was accompanied by Howard Tanner (Then head of the Fisheries Department at Michigan State University).  Tanner and Tody had been instrumental in setting up the salmon fisheries program in the Great Lakes.  At this meeting there was considerable disagreement expressed by the membership to the DNR’s philosophy in fisheries management in respect to the salmon snagging problem.  Tody was strictly harvest oriented and didn’t appear to give a damn about ethics or sportsmanship.  He thought that snagging was a perfectly legitimate method of harvesting these fish as long as the bag-limits were not exceeded.  He didn’t seem to care that other species that accompanied the salmon on their spawning runs were also being illegally  taken by this activity.  This was the beginning of my long-standing disagreement with the DNR on many aspects of fisheries management.  It sounded to me that Tody and his associates were afraid that if they clamped down on these violations of fishing ethic by these snagging “yahoos,” the Michigan Tourist Council and their merchants of irresponsible behavior wold be snapping at their heels.

    The first “big name” speaker we had from the collection of well-published fishing gurus was in 1967.  We invited Ernie Schwiebert.  We only had a meager $150 in the treasury and could not have been able to pay for a speaker of that stature if it had not been for Dan Crockett and Floyd Eberly who generously provide the funds for the honorarium and travel expenses.  At this time, this sum was a third or less of what name-speakers would receive today.  In those early years, if we had $300 in the treasury at the beginning of the program year, September, we thought that we were well off.  With the programs and activities that we sponsor today, that balance would be a disaster.  We would be “stone-broke.”

    Up to this time, our meetings were held on a Wednesday nights.  In 1968, my logs indicate that we had meetings on January 24, February 21, March 20 and April 24.  By then we had recruited several merchants from the Kalamazoo area to our membership.  Among those who showed considerable interest in our chapter and its activities were Jim Shumaker, a jeweler, and Stan Weber, who was a partner in Lew Hubbard’s men’s furnishings store.  Because of the conflict with the business hours of many merchants who were active in the chapter, the meeting night was soon changed to Thursday nights and most usually on the third Thursday as they still remain today.

    In 1967, Ed Sutton, our Chapter President, changed his place of employment from Brown Paper Company to Shakespeare Co.  This change was much more conducive to Ed’s activities on behalf of Trout Unlimited, as he was engaged in promoting their lines of fishing tackle and attended many sport-fishing shows.  This advantage gave us more access to interesting guest speakers and provided more opportunities for membership recruitment.  However, Ed’s duties with Shakespeare Co. also brought about many changes for the chapter and me.  In 1969, Ed was transferred to Massachusetts to become the Sales Director for the northeast part of the United States.  As Vice President, I succeeded Ed as President.  I believe that this transfer took place in the spring of 1969.  The following February, I was elected President for a term of my own.

    Meetings in early 1969 were held on January 22, February 12, March26, and April 23.  My notes indicate that I attended my first Michigan Council meeting on November 11 of that year.  Earlier in 1969, one of our speakers had been Rod Towsley, a sales representative for the Scientific Line Co. of Midland, Michigan.  This was when the company was an independent manufacturer of fly lines, long before they were taken over by Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (3M).  Towsley spoke on the history and development of the company.  It had been started a s sideline by Leon Martuch, a plastics chemist or engineer at Dow Chemical Co.  Martuch was a avid fly fisherman and had shared the common experiences of using unsatisfactory fly lines which wore out easily and did not float well.  He used his knowledge of plastics to develop a new method of producing lines that floated better, were more durable, and cast with greater ease than most of those previously available.  It was at this meeting or one shortly thereafter, that Towsley attended, he brought along Carl Richard and Doug Swisher who wo were then working on their first book, Selective Trout.  After the regular program, I talked at some length to Swisher and Richards about their new concepts in fly design.  A future meeting was planned in which they would present a slide show on how they had gathered the material and developed the fly designs for their book. They were eager to promote this book and wanted to test some of the material on us in order to gauge its acceptance.  We were also anxious to see this show, and it was agreed that they would come as soon as their program was completed.

    When I attended my first Michigan Council meeting on November 11, 1969, I was immediately elected to be Treasurer of the Michigan Council.  I don’t know why; it was a rather poor choice, I thought.  I had no knowledge of accounting procedures, although I could balance a checkbook.  It was a chore for me to keep a set of books that anyone could understand besides myself.  I got along fairly well for a year until they found someone with banking and accounting experience to take over this job.  At that time it was also a novel experience for the Council to have any funds to speak of in its treasury.  The small balance was being rapidly expanded by funds gathered to start a legal defense fund for the North Branch of the Au Sable River.  Cottage owners on Otsego Lake had been troubled by high water after having foolishly built on low lands during the dry mid-sixties.  They wanted to dump the excess into the North Branch, the result of which would warm this stream considerably and possibly ruin it as a trout fishery.  All of the Au Sable below the confluence of the North Branch and the mainstream would be affected.  TU was a partner with the North Branch Association in bringing suit to stop the dumping.  The DNR was evidently going to allow some dumping, and TU wanted controls place on the amount that could be discharged into the Au Sable system.  TU successfully fought this actin and at this time, I met Joe Wilcox of Albion, MI, who was the legal adviser of the council at that time.  Joe is still a member of our Chapter by choice, because of activist stance has always been much more in evidence than other nearby chapters.  He has appeared before our Chapter as a speaker on environmental law on a pair of occasions.

    As I recall, the suit that TU filed resulted in a consent agreement where the volume of water being duped was limited to an acceptable level to prevent over warming the stream.  As usual with such water level controversies, the water level in Otsego Lake came down in a couple of years and the dumping became a moot question anyway.  This was the first action of this nature in which the Michigan Council was involved to my knowledge.  It was an interesting experience in which to play a small part and increased my enthusiasm for TU and its aims.

    My notes for 1970 start with a Board meeting on January 7, where the programs and financial plans for hte year were set.  On February 4, Dave Borgeson, Director of Inland Fisheries for the DNR was our speaker.  This was probably the beginning of a long-term disagreement in philosophy over regulations and “Quality Water” designation for our streams.  It seemed that the DNR wanted virtually none of this flies and artificial lures designation at this time.  What little was in force was reluctantly granted because of TU pressure.  There was supposed to be 100 miles of this “Quality-Water,” but we were never able to obtain more than seventy-five miles as a permanent set-aside.  There was a three-year experimental stretch placed on the Boardman River, which we wanted to make permanent but were unsuccessful.  After several years as Fisheries Committee Coordinator for the Michigan Council, I was almost completely frustrated by the harvest oriented philosophy of Borgeson and his associates.

    On March 19, 1970, almost a year after their first visit to our chapter, Swisher and Richards presented the slide program on which their first book, Selective Trout, was based.  It was an educational evening and introduced the concept of their lightly dressed, no-hackle, para-dun and hen-spinner designs.

    During those days of the late sixties and early seventies, our fund raising efforts were strictly internal.  I say internal because the money raised came from the twenty or thirty members who consistently supported and attended our meetings.  They were the heart and soul of the Chapter, without whose dedication we may not have survived.  At first, our year-end meeting was held in April, when we held a raffle or auction of items donated by our members, plus one larger item.  This was usually a graphite rod and Battenkill reel donated by the Orvis Co.  All we had to do was send in the opinion of three members on the performance of the reel and the winner of the raffle was allowed to keep it.  Thus, were able to expand our treasury to a considerable extent over what we had previously enjoyed.  This practice was later expanded to have a December raffle of smaller proportions that was held just before the Show and Tell presentations was one given by a board member, Jim Holzback, an interesting account of a fishing trip to the Alaskan peninsula for salmon, steelhead and char.

    By the early seventies we had progressed to a the point where the balance in our treasury in September was $400 to $600, instead of the $150 we had formerly possessed at the beginning of our meetings in the fall.  we now felt that we could afford one “name” speaker a year.  That is, one good promotional event where an honorarium was necessary to obtain a speaker that would attract a good attendance.

    By 1971, all of our meetings were held on the third Thursday of the month as they are today.  By this time, both Dan Crockett and Mike Jones had become very active members, and they and George Disborough were my constant companions on trips to Lansing to the Michigan Council meetings.  These three were also responsible for starting a small “occasionally published” newsletter that was the per-cursor to SlackLines.  These letters were very rudimentary at first, just a few notes on chapter activities with reports of the members fishing success or lack thereof during the summer months.  Sometime in the early seventies, Mike Jones became our Chapter Secretary and took over and expanded the newsletter.  Mike, Dan Crockett, and George Disborough met often during this time and through their effort, SlackLines came into being and was published on a much more regular schedule.

    When I first became President in 1969, our Chapter Secretary was Howard “Red” Welch.  He had succeeded Jerry Clough and had served for a year or two under Ed Sutton our first President. “Red” served for two or three years and had the unenviable task of prodding national Headquarters in Denver to get our meeting notices out.  After I had attended a few Michigan Council meetings, I found that we were the only chapter in the state that met once a month from September through April.  I question whether National was accustomed to sending out notices as often as we requested.  They didn’t always arrive on time and we had to develop a calling system to notify our membership a few times.

    Some of those who served on the Board of Directors in those early years were Floyd Eberly, A.J. Score, George Disborough, Jim Warren, Mike Jones, Jim Shumaker, Stan Weber, Ivan Pinkerton, Bob Wagner, Bob Heubner, Jim Miller, Jim Holzbach, Fred Oswald, Bob Hosick and Cough Wendzel.  There may have been others, but I cannot recall their names at this time.

    Sometime in the early seventies, we were urged by National to put on a recruitment drive.  We had always endeavored to bring in new members by personal contact.  his time National Headquarters sent a big golder of TU brochures, which we were to place in all of the stores that deal with the sale of fishing tackle.  These displays were left in the stores for about two months, and I am not aware of one member that was recruited in that manner.  Personal contact and persuasion proved to be more effective than any other method.

    Sometime int he early or mid-seventies, we started to do our own mailings.  We now had the resources in the treasury to handle the postage, and it proved to be a much more efficient means of communication with our members.  It was an advantage to have our own mailing list, as we could notify new members long before National got them on our roster.  We also found that National often deleted names by mistake and added some that should not have been there.  We received a roster update from National but the most reliable list from our own records.

    By the mid-seventies, we started the practice of having one big name speaker a year.  Sometimes these meetings were timed in coincide with our prime money raising event of the year.  However, we soon separated these two activities, as it seemed unfair to bring in a speaker and use up much of the time in money raising attempts.  It seemed more advantageous to use these noted guests as a drawing card for recruitment activities.

    Ernie Schweibert made his second appearance here in January of 1974.  This was shortly after his book “Nymphs” was published, and his presence was mutually beneficial for both of us.  Ernie could promote his new book, and we used the publicity to draw in prospectie members.  Other name speakers that appeared here during the seventies were Dave Whitlock (twice), Lee and Joan Wulff (courtesy of the Garcia Co.), Lefty Kreh, and in 1979, Dave Engerbretson.

    We often invited as speakers, men involved in fisheries management or research.  Stan Lievense of the DNR came to give a summary of the management programs on the streams in the northwest part of the Lower Peninsula.  This area covered the Pere Marquette, Little Manistee, Betsie, Platt, and Boardman rivers.  he also showed his patented device for a streamer fly to make it wiggle like a fish.  This was a plastic scoop like device that was tied under the head of the “fly.”  He called it his “Stanley Streamer.”  I believe that this type of lure was latter banned from the “flies only” water.  Dave Borgeson, Head of Inland Fisheries for the DNR, appeared several times.  One of the most interesting programs of this type was presented by Justin Leonard, head of Fisheries Research at the University of Michigan.  Howard Tanner appeared when was director of Fisheries Research at Michigan State University and scientific adviser to the Michigan Council.

    In 1975, The Kalamazoo Valley Chapter was given the responsibility of the Regulations Committee for the Michigan Council.  This committee, comprised of Doug Wendzel, Bob Hosick, and myself, was supposed  to gather information from several sources and make recommendations to the Council in matters regarding fishing bag size limits, special regulations, etc.  This procedure didn’t last very long, as it was too cumbersome a method of arriving at decisions.  It was then changed to an “in-council” activity, with representatives of three or four chapters serving with me acting as the chairman.

    In 1975, Dan Crockett was elected President of our chapter.  I continued on the Board of Directors and on the Michigan Council as Chairman of the Fisheries Committees. This was just a new designation for the old Regulations Committee, but a few added responsibilities were included.  I was also appointed t the Executive Committee of the Michigan Council.  During this period, the Council met every other month, whereas the Executive Committee met on alternate months.  These meetings were usually held in Lansing but occasionally in Grayling or Roscommon to accommodate the representatives from the northern part of the State.  This called for a lot of travel on my part, and I recall only a pair of meetings where we were not represented at Council by Dan Crockett, Mike Jones, George Disborough or myself.  A ten-inch snowfall on a meeting date might deter us.

    In 1973, the Michigan Council lacked a editor for its publication “Michigan Trout” for a period of a year or more.  The chapters were given a rotating responsibility for putting out an issue.  I remember that we were very fortunate to have people such as George Disborough, Mike Jones, Dan Crockett and Ivan Pinkerton to produce our issue.  I thought that it was one of the finest issues of Michigan Trout every put together during that era of tens years or more.  If there had been an award fot the best issue, I’m sure that we would have won it.

    By the late 1970’s, SlackLines had become a regular publication issued on a schedule.  It was edited for several years by members from Battle Creek, Fred Oswalt and Pat Conelly.  I have forgotten the order in which they served, but I think Pat succeeded Fred in the capacity.  Herb Spencer also served as editor of our newsletter, but I am not sure of the sequence of Herb’s and Pat’s terms of service in this capacity.

    One of the activities entered into during this period was the annual Hunting and Fishing Day Exposition at Maple Hill Mall.  We set up a booth there and had sighs and displays explaining the aims of Trout Unlimited.  This was probable the precursor to our “Mall Event” activities.  The Board felt that our effort was too diluted by other displays to promote our message effectively.  We started holding our first fly-fishing and trout fishing events for the public at the Portage South Elementary School gymnasium.  After a couple of years, this was changed to the “Mall Event.”  It served fairly well as an instrument for publicizing our organization and recruiting new members.

    During the late seventies, we started having one or two meetings a year in Battle Creek, for the convenience of our membership from that area.  I recall that Dr. Lee Shipp Lou Philips, Fred Oswalt, Pat Connelly, and Jack Schueman were the most active members during our first few years of existence.  Our meeting places varied considerable over th first few years and were changed to attempt to obtain the best service for the money.  This was not always and easy task as we still have our problems in that area today.  We started meeting at Stafford’s Restaurant in south Portage.  Locations that followed were the Holiday Inn on I-94, Knight’s Bridge In on Sprinkle Road, and Chicken Charlies on South Westnedge Avenue.  All of these sites have failed in business or changed hands (sold out during our tenure at their establishments).  However, I refuse to believe that we were responsible for any of these events.

    I was elected to a second term as President in 1979 and served until the end of the 1983 season.  During this period our organization became much better organized not because of me but rather through the efforts of a solid core of actie members whose efforts made this a much “smoother ride” than during my first tenure as President.  SlackLines had become a regular feature of our Chapter; our money raising efforts were much more successful; and the membership roles were steadily increasing due to SlackLines and personal contacts.

    We held two fund raising meetings a year; a major effort in December and a lesser one in April.  Bob Heubner acted as our auctioneer for several of those events and raffles as well as the auction brought in increased income.  Terry Mills (of Upjohn Sales) and Dan Crockett were our premier promoters of raffle ticket sales.

    In January or February of 1975 Ed Sutton was invited back for a special speaker for the celebration of the tenth anniversary of our founding.  He presented an interesting slide show of  Atlantic Salmon fishing in northern Quebec.

    Further logs indicate that Dan Crockett was elected to his second term as President in 1984.  In the period from 1969 and 1984, Dan and I alternated as President.  I believe there was a six-month period in the eighties when Bob Heubner served as President.  I believe that this was after Dan Crockett had served his second term.  Bob was a physician from Hastings who had been active in our chapter for several years.  He probably had been on the Board of Directors, but I do not recall his term of service in this capacity.  He left Michigan and resigned his post, however, he stayed in touch for several years, and was still listed in our 1992 Membership Directory although he resided in Florida.

    One of the best publicity recruitment projects that we had during the seventies was the distribution of several hundred litterbags.  National made these bags available upon request, and I recall that we ordered and dispensed two different of these handy items.  They were made and given to National by Levi Strauss Co., the makers of Levi’s, etc.  They were a very strong net bag measuring 12×24 inches, bearing the Trout Unlimited logo and the message “Bring back a limit of litter.”  The distribution of this bag was a very good idea.  Not only did it send the message to the public about one of Trout Unlimited’s principles, keeping a clean environment, but is use personally gave me easier access to some stretches of trout streams that had been previously difficult for me to reach.  Streamside cottage owners would often inquire about my success.  I would hold up the bag with a half dozen or so assorted pieces of trash and explain that I had caught and released a few fish but was removing some litter instead of m catch.  Several times, I was invited to come back and given permission to cross their property on foot to reach less accessible stretches of the stream.  I thought that the distribution and use of this bag was excellent publicity and recruitment tool for Trout Unlimited and our chapter.  It was certainly well received a few years ago and would work again, even though Michigan has a bottle and can return program.  There is still too much trash left alongside and in our trout streams that can be picked up without resorting to a massive “clean-up”.

This concludes my recollection and notes on the origin of the Kalamazoo Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited and some of its activities during the earlier years of its existence.